New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday delayed the country’s election by four weeks to October 17 after new cases of the coronavirus were reported in Auckland, AFP reported. The prime minister was under pressure from the Opposition as well as her coalition parties to postpone the elections, which were originally scheduled for September 19.
Ardern, who had the option to delay the polls for nearly two months, said that she had called a meeting of political parties represented in Parliament before announcing her decision on Monday, reported AP. “Ultimately I want to ensure we have a well-run election that gives all voters the best chance to receive all the information they need about parties and candidates, and delivers certainty for the future,” she said.
After 102 days of being coronavirus free, four cases of unknown transmission were reported in Auckland on August 11. The number of confirmed cases in the city has grown to at least 49. All election campaigning had been suspended in the country.
The delay will ensure that election workers required for the polls are available on the revised date but it will cause logistical problems, including rebooking voting venues, according to AP. “This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead,” she said, adding that the poll date will not be changed again.
The prime minister also said the Parliament session would resume early in September and the legislators would be called to attend the functioning of the House.
The New Zealand First party, a coalition partner of Arden’s Labour party, welcomed the move. “Common sense has prevailed,” said NZF leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Another ally of the Labour Party said the delay would give time to health workers to contain the outbreak in Auckland.
However, James Shaw, a leader in the coalition member Green Party, said political parties in the nation were showing “self-interest” in delaying the polls. “We have been incredibly disappointed to see the national and other small parties continue to use the weekend to bang on about what would suit them best politically,” he said.
Opinion polls showed the Labour Party was likely to win the elections. With Ardern receiving praise globally for the handling of the coronavirus, the party’s popularity has jumped significantly.
Until August 11, the only known cases of the virus in New Zealand, after it had declared itself Covid-19 free on June 8, were 22 travellers who had returned from foreign shores and were kept in quarantine at the border.
Since the pandemic began in January, New Zealand has reported just 1,631 cases of the coronavirus and 22 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University.